‘Sisters of the Vast Black’ is her debut novella. I found it exciting and moving and filled with real people trying to do the right thing.
The writing is accomplished, confident and accessible. It avoids being either didactic or polemical while still exploring the nature of personal responsibility, service, duty and different ways in which we come to love those we serve with. It positions hierarchy as an instrument for centralising power and reducing individual freedom, making people abdicate their personal judgement and do things they would normally be ashamed of.
‘Sisters Of The Vast Black’ follows a small group the Sisters of the Order of Saint Rita as they travel the outer reaches of mankind’s colonies in the stars, tending to the sick and carrying out marriages and baptisms. They travel aboard their convent, Our Lady of Impossible Constellations which is a vast, genetically engineered mollusc called a Liveship.
Lina Rather does a great job of making the Liveship feel real rather than a magical whimsey without resorting to infodumps or slipping into technolust.
Her main focus is on the Sisters themselves. Who they are as individuals. How they behave as a group. What called them to serve and the different ways in which they feel that calling.
As the story progresses, we learn that humanity has been through an interstellar war between Earth and its colonies. A war that killed billions of people, destroyed habitats and unleashed deadly diseases. Most of the story is about how the aftermath of that war and the re-awakening ambition of Earth reaches out even to the remote regions that Our Lady Of Impossible Constellations travels through and confronts the Sisters with difficult choices.
The novella builds to a tense, action-packed, emotionally powerful conclusion that left me both satisfied and hungry for more.
I’ll be watching for Lina Rather’s next novella or her first novel.